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What's at stake in Russia polls?

For the liberal opposition, the vote will show whether celebrity candidate Ksenia Sobchak has enough support to head a new liberal party.

Published: 18th March 2018 10:44 AM  |   Last Updated: 18th March 2018 10:46 AM   |  A+A-

Russian flag used for representation.

By AFP

MOSCOW: With little doubt over Vladimir Putin's victory in Russia's polls on Sunday, commentators will focus on whether the Kremlin can rally a large turnout for the strongman.

For the liberal opposition, the vote will show whether celebrity candidate Ksenia Sobchak has enough support to head a new liberal party, while for the Communists, the result will reveal whether a fresh face can revive the party's fortunes.

-  Turnout -
The suspense-free election campaign has largely failed to grab Russians and the authorities are pulling out all the stops to convince people to vote, in order to legitimise a Putin victory.

This became particularly important after the main opposition leader Alexei Navalny urged supporters to boycott the polls.

Last year Navalny called tens of thousands of mainly young Russians out onto the street for protests against Putin.

Navalny himself was barred from the presidential race due to a criminal conviction that he and his supporters say was politically motivated.

A low turnout could be interpreted as showing a lack of enthusiasm for Putin's campaign after he eliminated meaningful competition -- and also as a victory for Navalny.

The authorities are pushing hard to bring out voters. Billboards and ads urging people to vote are much more common in Moscow than those for individual candidates.

Several videos aimed at boosting turnout, whose authorship are unclear, have circulated on social media. One featured semi-clad models while another warned of a post-Putin world where a middle-aged man is forced to live with a gay lodger.

Russian media has reported that officials and workers at factories are being pressured to vote.

 - New liberal voice -
In Navalny's absence, the liberal opposition was set to be represented only by Grigory Yavlinsky, an ageing politician with little appeal for the young people who took to the streets in their thousands last year for anti-Kremlin protests called by Navalny.

But expectations have been shaken up by Sobchak, a 36-year-old former reality show host and in recent years a tough-talking journalist, making a surprise decision to stand.

Her late father Anatoly Sobchak was a liberal politician who served as mayor of the city of Saint Petersburg and is seen as one of Putin's political mentors. 

She is widely criticised, including by Navalny, as a "Kremlin project" designed to fragment liberal supporters.

Her result will be closely watched to see whether she can exceed the 1 or 2 percent predicted by state-run opinion polls and head an alternative liberal opposition movement.

She announced at her last campaign rally that she is launching a new Party of Changes.

Sobchak "did not behave like a Kremlin puppet" while campaigning, said Alexander Baunov from the Carnegie Moscow Center, while stressing that none of the candidates could stand without Kremlin approval.

Sobchak could take part in a new political landscape if the Kremlin sees a need for this, he said. "But it's not for sure that such a decision will be taken."

- Communist future - 
The Communist Party led by 73-year-old Gennady Zyuganov since the fall of the Soviet Union chose to field a younger candidate, Pavel Grudinin, who could appeal to those outside the party's heartland.

The millionaire businessman is not a member of the party but has praised Stalin and runs an agribusiness called the Lenin State Farm just outside Moscow.

His campaign will be seen as a barometer of the mood within the party and its supporters' appetite for renewal.

As a new face, Grudinin has revived interest in a party that still retains a large support base, particularly in provincial cities where the economic situation is worst of all. 

Its ideology is a mixture of Soviet nostalgia and conservative values, combining patriotic loyalty to the Kremlin with criticism of Putin's economic policies.

During his campaign, Grudinin has faced a hail of allegations of financial wrongdoing from pro-Kremlin media but electoral authorities ruled there was no grounds to drop his candidacy.

For Baunov of Carnegie, Grudinin looks like a "one-shot" politician and he doubts the desire among Communists for real change.

"These new faces don't mean new policies so far. The faces are new but the policies are old."



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